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Kyrie Irving scores 40 as Nets sweep Knicks, 114-112; James Harden hurt

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New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

213It wasn’t the prettiest of wins but it was enough to resonate throughout New York and environs.

Without Kevin Durant, James Harden and Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving led the shorthanded Nets to the season-series sweep, defeating the crosstown rival Knicks, 114-112, for the first time since the 2014-15 season. The two teams are now even all-time with each franchise tallying 106 wins, including playoffs.

“More activity. [Julius] Randle was putting so much activity on us in the half-court and the full court. Defensively, we were too stagnant sitting and watching him. It was comfortable for them. They were all comfortable making shots so we tried to speed it up. They tried to throw in the odd double-team and more blitz. Just upped the pace on that end to make them more uncomfortable,” Steve Nash said postgame.

“Our guys played harder in the second half and held them to 45 points, which was considerable considering the first half outage.”

Irving carried the load after Harden went down re-aggravating his right hamstring tightness and didn’t return after four minutes of play. The Nets superstar was remarkable, finishing with 40 points - his 12th 30-point game of the season and second against the Knicks - to go along with two rebounds and seven assists in 37 minutes. Irving is now averaging more than 38 points in games where he’s the “Big One” without Harden and Durant.

“When James goes down, Kai is the primary ball-handler. More action directly runs through him instead of off-ball where James is handling a bit more. Kai is having to do even more whether it’s facilitating for other guys as well,” Harris said on Irving’s role without Harden. “Obviously, we all know that he is capable of that.”

It was another hard-fought win for Brooklyn (we’re not going to call it an escape) that came down to the final minutes. Brooklyn led by one point entering the final minute until Irving found his spot on the right-wing and went to work, drilling a side-step three to give him 40 points and Brooklyn a 112-117 lead with 59.3 seconds remaining. Then Kyrie taketh away, firing a pass out of bounds and giving the Knicks another chance With 25.5 left on the clock, Alec Burks - who finished with six points for New York off the bench - tied up the game at 112 with a big three.

The Nets had a second in between the game clock and the shot clock and with 3.7 seconds remaining, Green — who finished with his third straight 20+ point game with 23 points -- snagged a huge offensive rebound, resulting in a foul with 3.7 seconds left. The veteran hit two clutch free throws to put the Nets up two. The Knicks had one last hope to escape with the win but Julius Randle missed the mid-range jumper at the buzzer.

While Irving and Green paved the way for Brooklyn, Joe Harris played a big role in the win scoring 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting overall and 2-of-3 from deep in 34 minutes.

Alize Johnson, pressed into service early, scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 17 minutes. It was his second double-digit scoring game in three games.

“From the moment he got here, that’s how he’s been. Even in practice sessions, he doesn’t back down from anybody,” Harris said. “He’s aggressive on both ends of the court. I’m glad he got an opportunity tonight.”

Despite sweeping the Knicks, there is bad news that shades all over the win.

Harden was ruled out for the remainder of the game after re-aggravating his right hamstring tightness in the first. Prior to the game, Steve Nash noted that Harden’s scan came back clean. Harden ended his short night with three assists in four minutes.

“Very similar to last time. He just had an awareness of something’s not right with his hammy. His scan was clean as we reported. His strength tests, when he came back to the locker room, were normal. It’s just something that we have to protect him. We have to trust him. Very frustrating for James but we can’t risk it if we can afford not to,” Nash said. “That depends on trust between us and James making sure he feels comfortable with the decision. I thought tonight was the right decision was not to take any risks with him.

“Who knows. This may linger. It may be all behind us like we thought it was before the game but, it’s just one of those things where the scan was clean, the strength tests are clean but he feels something. So, on the side of caution.”

Nash and the Nets remain hopeful that his lingering hamstring will turn into a very short-term thing.

“We just have to proceed day-by-day and monitor it. Hopefully, it’s a very short-term thing.”

For New York, who fell under .500 to 25-26, Randle gave the Nets his best shot, finishing the loss with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists for his fourth triple-double of the season.

The Nets opened up the game making six of their first eight shots but then Harden happened. With 7:38 remaining in the first, The Beard requested to be subbed out following a drive and kick to Irving in the corner. He was replaced by Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and ultimately Harden was ruled out for the remainder of the game.

With Harden sent to the locker room and didn’t return, the Nets, who entered the game short with ball handlers, played Chris Chiozza for three minutes in the first to give Irving, who scored 14 points, a breather.

The defense didn’t complement the offensive play from both teams but the Knicks concluded the first on a 7-0 run as the Nets trailed 36-31 after one.

Brooklyn struggled to find consistent stops against New York in the opening minutes of the second. Johnson, who started the second for the Nets, provided the shorthanded backcourt with some great minutes scoring six points in eight minutes of play to help Brooklyn find a groove offensively. It didn’t last long.

Like Sunday’s loss against Chicago, the Knicks began to pull away in the closing minutes of the second, forging a 16-2 run boosted by the electric shooting from Reggie Bullock from three to end the half shooting 51 percent overall and nursing a 10-point lead over Brooklyn.

New York got big boosts from Randle, who finished the half with an early triple-double watch of 11 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. While the Nets couldn’t buy a bucket, the lone bright spot was Irving, who kept the Nets afloat with 23 points at the break with the team shooting 52.3 percent overall and 35.7 percent from deep but for Brooklyn, the team needed to dictate the tempo and forge a comeback beginning on the defensive end.

The Nets offense was stagnant in the opening minutes of the third but Brooklyn began to roll, capitalizing off Knick turnovers and pushing the fast break to forge a mini-run, boosted by an Irving slam to cut the deficit to nine with 7:18 remaining.

Brooklyn continued their rally in the closing minutes of the third - led by Irving and topped by a Green slam - boasting a 7-3 run to decrease the deficit to four with 2:46 remaining in the third. Irving took a seat with 3:15 remaining but the Nets kept rolling. Brooklyn topped the quarter on an extended 14-2 run to head into the final 12 minutes nursing an 89-88 lead.

The Nets kept it rolling to start the second, behind the play of their stay-ready group and Harris, resulting in the Knicks to whistle for a quick timeout with 9:52 to go. Irving, along with Aldridge, checked back in for the Nets with 8:59 remaining.

With 8:07 remaining, Irving got to the right-wing and put Randle on skates, hitting a filthy 26-foot step-back three to electrify the Barclays Center crowd to grow the lead to six before some tempers flared between Luwawu-Cabarrot and Randle, resulting in double technicals. Here’s a look at Irving’s big-time shot.

“Respectfully, I think I’ve been able to put in a lot of reps over the course of my career,” said Kyrie of the right-wing three. “So if there’s a spot I like to get to, that wing spot I’ve been pretty successful. Whenever I get the chance to get to it or line it up, I feel like it has a great chance of going in.”

The Nets held on in the final seconds to sweep the Knicks with a 114-112 win.

The Film Room

Injuries. Are. Such. A. Drag.

Every time it feels like this group is about to get back on the court at full strength, someone (or SOMEONES, this week). Tyler Johnson collapses with a non-contact injury on Sunday against the Bulls. On Monday, it was James Harden re-aggravating his right hamstring injury. It’s okay. We’re all thinking it. The injuries, sigh, are getting pretty tiring. That’s what you get when you put together a ridiculous, borderline-unsustainable schedule loaded up with back-to-backs and grueling road trips, combined with practically no training camp at all. Could be that, just an idea.

“It sucks,” said Jeff Green of the Nets recent injury stretch. “It’s really tough, especially when we’re trying to get healthy and then we keep getting the injury bug... We have to just come together collectively and figure out ways to win. You know, next man up.”

Fortunately, there were some bright spots against the Knicks. Chris Chiozza whizzed by skip passes to open shooters to help the Nets try and stay afloat in the non-Kyrie Irving minutes. Nicolas Claxton continued to show prowess for cleaning the offensive glass, even mixing in a couple of spiffy passes to cutting teammates.

And then there was Alize Johnson, who continued to provide infectious energy by grabbing every rebound in sight and uncorking that spring-loaded floater. This up-and-under finish in transition is nifty, majestic even.

Petition to make this the new NBA logo:

Kevin Durant and Landry Shamet: day-to-day

Given that Brooklyn entered Monday’s game against the Knicks so, SO shorthanded, Steve Nash was rapid-fire questioned on the missing players’ health statuses. The good news? Tyler Johnson’s non-contact injury is far less severe than originally expected, likely only requiring a two-to-three-week recovery period.

Oh, but it gets better! Kevin Durant has reached the point of “day-to-day” status according to Nash, a sign we’re NEARLY at the finish line.

“Kevin is kind of at that day-to-day point,” said Nash. “I think he needs to continue to hit his markers as far as the workload he’s able to put in, sustain, and recover from before we play him, but that day is getting closer and he’s trending in a really positive direction.”

Landry Shamet, who reaggravated his right ankle sprain on Sunday against the Bulls, is in the same boat as KD.

“Landry will be out tonight. I think he needs be monitored day-to-day. I haven’t gotten a conclusive time stamp but I don’t think it’s terrible,” Nash said. “But he’s not going to be ready tonight.”

ONE DAY the Nets will be at full strength. One day.

A simple video, a simple story and a simple lesson...

Zay timeline

Just to reiterate, Alize Johnson is on his second 10-day which will end Sunday. Friday is the buyout deadline. If a player is waived after Friday, he can sign with a new team at any point after that and be eligible for that team’s post-season roster. So, if the Nets come to an agreement with a players like Otto Porter Jr., they’d have to dump someone to sign him and Johnson, as a 10-day, would be the easiest.

If, on the other hand, the Nets like what they see in the 23-year-old Johnson, they can simply sign him to a standard deal, perhaps even a multi--year deal. Last year, the Nets signed Timothe’ Luwawu-Cabarrot to a two-year deal at the end of his second 10-day, the second year non-guaranteed.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

The Nets will return to action Wednesday when the team hosts the New Orleans Pelicans. The game is set to tip at 7:30 PM ET and will be the first and only time both teams play each other this season.

For a different perspective from the other side, check out Posting and Toasting - our sister site covering the New York Knicks.